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Trinidad & Tobago
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RIGHTS-TRINIDAD: Ruling Dismays Death Penalty Advocates
By Peter Ischyrion

PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 2 (IPS) - A court order lifting the threat of execution hanging over 52 convicted killers in Trinidad and Tobago has put the government under renewed pressure from the opposition, death penalty supporters, the public and lawyers to set out clearly its position on the ultimate sentence.

On Aug. 15, high court judge Nolan Bereaux ruled that 49 men and three women awaiting execution should be taken off death row and their sentences commuted to life imprisonment

They were all benefiting from a 2004 decision of the Privy Council, the twin-island's highest court of appeal, that it would have been "unfair" to execute those on death row because a year before they had been told that they could expect a review of their death sentences and even the possibility of a presidential commutation.

The Privy Council had ruled on an appeal by four death row prisoners from Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica against the mandatory death penalty in their countries. The judges struck down mandatory death penalty in Jamaica, but reversed their 2003 decision abolishing the automatic death penalty in Trinidad. The reason for this change of opinion was that the wording of Trinidad's constitution differed from that of Jamaica.

The judges based their reasoning for commuting the Trinidad death sentences on a constitutional provision relating to "human rights and fundamental freedoms". It was this power, also in the Jamaican constitution, that the Privy Council had invoked to justify its ruling in 1993 that it would be "inhumane" to execute anyone after spending more than five years on death row.

Bereaux's order for 52 death sentences in Trinidad to be commuted only applied to those on death row up to Jul. 7, 2004. About 30 people have been sent to death row since and are awaiting execution.

But there has been an outcry over the commutation of most of the nation's death row inmates at a time of a soaring violent crime rate. So far this year, there have been 344 homicides, making it one of the highest murder rates in the world.

The government should have commuted the sentences immediately after the 2004 Privy Council ruling, said Dana Seetahal, a lawyer and independent legislator.

"It may be that the authorities did not want a message being sent that convicted murderers would not pay the price of their crime," Seetahal said. "The government needs to make up its mind what it intends in relation to the death penalty."

Former attorney general and human rights lawyer Ramesh Maharaj agreed that the government should have acted immediately after the judges ruled in 2004.

After that the legal position on the death penalty was unclear and should have been "reviewed", Maharaj said, adding: "Punishment is an important factor in the fight against crime."

Criticism of the mass commutation has also been expressed by the president of the non-governmental organisation Crime Watch, Ian Alleyne.

"These people should not be spared...They broke the law, they murdered and then should face the ultimate penalty for murder which is death by hanging. Criminals will continue to terrorise, kill, murder and rape our innocent law-abiding citizens," he said.

Radio and television talk shows have also been inundated with callers questioning Bereaux's ruling and urging the government to resume executions.

"Even before the day is over, we will record at least two more murders," said one irate caller. "We need to put an end to that."

The government has responded to its critics by insisting that the death penalty remains in force.

It has also promised unspecified measures, presumably to re-start executions, the last of which were in 1999 when eight members of a gang were hanged for several murders.

"The government will take all steps which it considers necessary, including the enactment of relevant legislation to give effect to the law," said the attorney general, Brigid Annisette-George.

Some of these measures would "affect" the Privy Council. She referred specifically to the 1992 Privy Council Pratt and Morgan ruling halting executions after five years on death row, hinting that the government would propose an amendment to its constitutional amendment bill.

Israel Kahn, a lawyer, has called on the government to restrict the death penalty to premeditated murder.

"Murder at this point should be classified in three degrees. First, second and third and the death penalty retained only for first degree murder until our society has developed to such a state that one day we would be able to abolish the death penalty," Kahn said. "Without the classification in reality, the death of the death penalty already exists."

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Wed Sep 03, 2008 4:59 pm View user's profile Send private message
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To hang or not to hang?

Thursday October 02 2008

Guest Editorial:

The age-old question “To hang or not to hang” keeps coming up every so often in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

I read with interest a report from Caribbean Media Corporation on Monday that states that the Minister of Industry Investment and Consumers Affairs in Jamaica, Karl Samuda, and a group of top businessmen want the death penalty to be carried out after the body of an 11- year-old girl was found in the St. Andrew area over the weekend.

Trinidad & Tobago Attorney-General Bridget Annisette-George said a month ago that hanging will continue in the twin-island republic, since it is the rule of law, despite the fact that 52 prisoners who were convicted and sentenced to death were spared the hangman’s noose because of a Privy Council. In fact, there are now 30 prisoners on death row in Port-of-Spain.

In the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Anguilla, Turks & Caicos and Cayman Islands, there is no capital punishment for murder. This is because the British government has abolished hanging and passed a decree that there should be no such penalty in its overseas territories.

The death penalty still remains in the statute books in the independent states, however, most of these countries had relaxed execution and only carry it out in very rare and extreme cases.

However, because of the escalation of crime, a few countries have announced that they would continue to carry out the death penalty with the hope that it would be a deterrent to criminals.

It would be remembered that the twin- island republic created quite a stir about 13 years ago when it executed a convicted killer while his lawyers were arguing his case for an appeal to the Privy Council against his death sentence.

The British-based Privy Council is not in favour of judicial hanging hence the ruling in the case of Pratt and Morgan that it was not humane to execute someone if he was incarcerated for more than five years. Because of this decision, scores of individuals, including the 52 from Trinidad & Tobago were saved from the gallows.

Before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated, those who were against the formation of the Regional Court said the CCJ was being established to sidestep the Privy Council so that hanging could continue, but this was strenuously denied. In fact, the CCJ made a ruling disproving the allegation.

It is interesting to note that Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, the two countries that were in the forefront for the formation of the CCJ, have not joined the judicial arm of the CCJ and still retain the Privy Council as the final Court and it is ironic that these two largest countries in the English-speaking Caribbean want hanging to continue.

Only Guyana and Barbados have abolished appeals to the Privy Council.

The big question is, is it right for the country or state to take the life of another if he had killed someone? Is judicial hanging justified?

Several years ago, more than 3.2 million people from several countries sent a petition to then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for an end to the death penalty and this is what he said in response. “The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible for one human being for another even when backed by legal process. I believe that future generations throughout the world will come to agree.”

The debate goes on whether or not judicial hanging is a positive response to the crime of murder. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that hanging will minimise murder, but I recall a few decades ago the “cat” served as deterrent to “choke and rob” gangs that operated in Georgetown.

The “cat” is a whip which was used to flog criminals convicted for serious criminal offences.

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney-at-law who practices extensively throughout the wider Caribbean. Reprinted from Caribbean Net News.

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Thu Oct 02, 2008 10:15 pm View user's profile Send private message
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A Penalty Without Legitimacy The Mandatory Death Penalty In Trinidad And Tobago (2009)
Papers prepared for a Conference held in Port of Spain on 7 March 2009

March 2009
The Death Penalty Project commissioned a survey of opinion among key stakeholders on the problems associated with the administration of the death penalty in Trinidad & Tobago. The research was conducted by the eminent experts Professor Emeritus Roger Hood CBE QC and Dr Florence Seemungal, following on from their 2006 publication A Rare and Arbitrary Fate, on the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago. The findings will stimulate discussion about the possibility of introducing legislation to abolish the mandatory nature of the death penalty, and were launched at a conference in Trinidad in March 2009.

A Rare And Arbitrary Fate
Conviction for Murder, the Mandatory Death Penalty and the Reality of Homicide in Trinidad and Tobago.
A report by Professor Roger Hood and Dr Florence Seemungal.
In 2003 the Death Penalty Project obtained funding from the European Commission and the Global Opportunities Fund of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and commissioned Professor Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls' College Oxford, and Dr Florence Seemungal, a Trinidadian researcher who was a visiting Scholar at the Centre for Criminology in Oxford, to conduct a statistical study of recorded murders and persons indicted for murder in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago in 1998-2002. The research was carried out under the auspices of the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, and the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford.

The purpose of the study was to provide for the first time an analysis of the kinds of murder that were recorded in Trinidad and Tobago in these years and the extent to which they resulted in a conviction for murder and a mandatory death sentence. A Rare and Arbitrary Fate was published in June 2006.

Trinidad and Tobago is one of only a few countries in the world where the penalty for all types of murder, whatever the circumstances, is death. The report found that the certainty of conviction for murder was so low, even among those successfully indicted for murder, that a mandatory death penalty cannot be an effective deterrent to murder. The study revealed that there was a great deal of arbitrariness affecting which defendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to death, and this meant that a mandatory death sentence was being applied inequitably, without consideration of the differences between murders and the persons convicted of them, and by no means always for the "worst of the worst" cases. The fact that it was so hard to obtain convictions for murder in Trinidad and Tobago may in part be due to the reluctance of witnesses, prosecutors and juries to see persons convicted of murder where there is no flexibility available in the sentence imposed. Thus, the existence of a mandatory death penalty may itself have been one of the factors affecting the ability of the system to secure convictions for murder. The report has been critical in raising awareness of the existence of the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago.

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Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:59 pm View user's profile Send private message
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Beyond a death penalty nation

Imagine, if you will, being the man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine being the friend of a man who's made some mistakes and is trying to fix them. Imagine being put on death row because attempting to protect yourself turned into a gruesome accident. Imagine being caught in the wrong crowd, not knowing how to escape, wanting to make a change in your life but being denied it until it's too late. Imagine someone you care about making a father figure out of a life of crime because he doesn't feel connected to society, and being unable to help him till his life continues to spiral.

Imagine the death penalty robbing us of the opportunity to take people willing and able to change for the better by restorative justice and contributing positively to society. Imagine that, instead of the grace alluded by Jesus that is capable of setting the captives free of their criminal mistakes, we choose not to work toward reconciliation, but instead to take an eye for an eye and call it our justice system.

Imagine our nation becoming a death penalty state…

Now, imagine a better way:

In Bastoy, 46 miles from Oslo, Norway, there is a place where little more than one hundred citizens have luxurious wooden cabins, a private movie theatre, a country club, and even ski jumps when winter rolls around. However, this is not a resort for the elite in society — this is Norway's Bastoy Prison, for hardened criminals. There are no electric fences or barred windows; murderers, drug dealers and sex offenders all share the same space and even work together on the island, with each citizen gaining jobs on the island for which they get paid, and timely attendance is mandatory; there has only been one escape attempt in its history, a failed one, and there has never been an incident of violence against staff, fellow inmates or even visitors, even though the facility is minimum-security. Prisons like Bastoy are responsible for Norway's re-offence rate being lower than the rest of Europe, at 20 per cent compared to over 50 per cent in the United Kingdom.

In Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, there is a project called the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programme, or VORP. Here, offenders of violent crime can voluntarily seek to speak with the victims and their families, allowing not only those families to voice their hurt and pain for having to suffer by his hand, but those offenders to apologise, voice their own pains at being social castaways, and together make amends not only in each other's lives but in the life of the greater society. Violent crime in Canada, as a result, was recorded in 2006 as merely 12.6 per cent, their lowest since 25 years prior, and it is still in steep decline.

When we partake in destructive justice practices like the death penalty, we are not ending the cycle, but fuelling it—we tell the criminal element that all they can do for themselves is to remain castaways on the fringes of our peaceful society. When a young man who has lost his way makes a mistake, the death penalty tells him there is no chance of him continuing to live and changing his ways, and his only other option is to continue down the wayward path. In effect, because we threaten the lost young man with death, we give birth to men who do not fear death because it could be around any corner.

When we partake in restorative justice practices like those I ask you to imagine, we are telling even the most hardened of criminals that there is a chance for them to be better citizens. We are telling them we can trust them to change, and in turn we make a change in their hearts, making them more able to trust society after poverty and disenfranchisement have embittered them and closed their hearts to the good that society can do for them.

Instead of making the promise to take an eye for an eye, we should consider instead making the promise to do good work, to let the spirit of righteous compassion act through us so we may in turn empower offenders in Trinidad and Tobago, no matter what the offence, to turn their lives around and make uplifting contributions in their communities without feeling like tools to be used or lepers to be shunned. If we make them feel like people—respected equals who should be held accountable for their heinous criminal actions but are still trusted to make a change, and not considered lesser than those outside the prison walls—we will be surprised how quickly they make a marked improvement and start treating us like respected equals as well.

"Doh Do Death" is a social media movement aimed at the abolition of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago. Formed in early 2011 under a broader human rights movement called A Bleeding Heart, the group's major objectives are to educate and sensitise citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to the realities of the death penalty.

(source: Brandon O'Brien is a spoken word artist, writer and activist. He is the co-founder of the activist collective A Bleeding Heart; Trinidad & Tobago Express)

Wed Feb 01, 2012 2:21 pm View user's profile Send private message
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Death penalty may not impact murder rate

Use of the death penalty does not affect subsequent murder rates, says a study of over 50 years of crime statistics in Trinidad and Tobago. “Our analysis of homicides and serious crimes in Trinidad and Tobago seriously undermines the contention that capital punishment offers a solution to Trinidad and Tobago’s soaring homicide rate,” write the study’s co-authors, David Greenberg, professor of sociology at New York University and Biko Agozino, professor of sociology at Virginia Tech.

“Over a span of 50 years, during which these sanctions were being deployed in degrees that varied substantially, neither imprisonment nor death sentences nor executions had any significant relationship to homicides.”

A study on the impact of capital punishment in the Caribbean republic is of particular interest because of the high level of death-penalty sentencing there. The sociologists’ findings are published in the British Journal of Criminology.

“It has been hard to measure capital punishment as a deterrent to murder in the U.S. because it is administered infrequently,” explains Greenberg. “By contrast, in Trinidad and Tobago, the chances of actually being executed have historically been much higher.”

In the United States, the death penalty was reinstated by states more than 30 years ago—following a 1976 landmark Supreme Court ruling—while capital punishment has not existed in Canada or in western Europe for several decades.

By contrast, Trinidad and Tobago had high rates of death-penalty sentencing and executions prior to a 1993 court ruling, which barred the death penalty for inmates on death row longer than 5 years, thereby reducing the number of executions and death-penalty sentences. Though the courts continue to impose death sentences, none has been carried out in more than a decade.

The researchers note that from 1955 to 1980, homicide rates were relatively stable in Trinidad and Tobago, ranging from 4.44 per 100,000 (1955) to 4.34 (1980) during this period. However, during this same stretch, executions ranged from a high of 16 in 1969 to zero between 1980 and 1993.

By contrast, when executions rose to 11 in 1999, the murder rate rose in nearly every subsequent year until 2007, the last year calculated. In 2007, 391 homicides were recorded in Trinidad and Tobago—a country with a population of just 1,328,412—resulting in a rate of 29.4 per 100,000 population. This compares to a U.S. homicide rate in the same year of 5.6 per 100,000 population.

The researchers acknowledged the role geography could play into the findings.

“Generalizations from Trinidad and Tobago to other settings must obviously be made cautiously,” they write. “Every country has distinctive elements of culture, social structure, and social organization that may influence the way its population responds to criminal justice sanctions, including the death penalty.”

Murders in the republic have risen dramatically since 2000—when executions ceased, even though death-penalty sentences have continued—but this change says little about the impact of capital punishment as a deterrent to murder, Greenberg says.

“We can reject the argument that the cessation of executions brought about a big increase in murder in the last decade—in earlier years, big swings in the execution rate had no visible effect and the 11 executions in 1999 brought about no detectable drop in homicides.”


Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:52 pm View user's profile Send private message
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